Archive for category: Teaching

Courting controversy pt. 2

September 5th, 2010 by

Just a quick follow-up to last week’s post on changes in higher education. The New York Times published an article on Friday, highlighting two new books on the future of the American academy and picking up some of the points I discussed last time:

The labor system, for one thing, is clearly unjust. Tenured and tenure-track professors earn most of the money and benefits, but they’re a minority at the top of a pyramid. Nearly two-thirds of all college teachers are non-tenure-track adjuncts like Matt Williams, who told Hacker and Dreifus he had taught a dozen courses at two colleges in the Akron area the previous year, earning the equivalent of about $8.50 an hour by his reckoning. It is foolish that graduate programs are pumping new Ph.D.’s into a world without decent jobs for them.

But the real meat of the article is an overview of some interesting, but slightly terrifying, proposed solutions:

As for the humanities, let professors do research after-hours, on top of much heavier teaching schedules. “In other occupations, when people feel there is something they want to write, they do it on their own time and at their own expense,” the authors declare.

The authors being “Andrew Hacker, a professor emeritus of political science at Queens College, and Claudia C. Dreifus, a journalist (and contributor to the science section of The New York Times)”. You can thank them below.

Courting controversy

August 25th, 2010 by

There’s nothing like an overtly contentious statement to bring in the traffic. And as they go, this is a pretty good one: “Why higher education is like a Ponzi scheme“.

The linked post is actually for a radio program, the content of which was based on this original article by a professor of psychology from the University of Kentucky. In it, she argues that there aren’t enough tenure-track jobs to support the PhD students coming through the system and that students are exploited to prop up the teaching and research of over-stretched professors:

“In short, I think academia shares many of the classic elements of a social trap: It is in most faculty members’ and departments’ best interests to recruit a lot of graduate students. Churning out PhDs is one of the major metrics of departmental ‘success’. Departments need graduate students to teach their classes, and faculty members need them to run their labs. Yet, as in any social trap, when everybody acts in their self-interest, a negative collective outcome ensues.”

Her solution? Not to accept any more PhDs:

“I’m no longer willing to pin my students’ prospects for their futures on an ephemeral job market that shines in the distance like a mirage … I don’t want to be part of the problem any more, and I think I will sleep better knowing that I am no longer contributing to an academic job market that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a Ponzi scheme on the verge of falling apart.”


News: The Mystery of Faculty Priorities – Inside Higher Ed

May 28th, 2009 by

Do you wonder why people without funding do research? Naw, probably not, because you do it too :) . Getting grant money involves a huge effort and most people do not have grants. However, everyone tries their best to get time to do research. In fact, universities encourage their faculty to focus on research at the expense of teaching time. This article covers a few theories on why this might happen. For example, Students gravitate toward research orientations, and Research quality has become a proxy for teaching quality. Interesting that two economists wrote it.

News: The Mystery of Faculty Priorities – Inside Higher Ed

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice –

April 18th, 2009 by

How much of the advice we take is based on solid empirical evidence? Surprisingly worrying little! I’d love it if someone actually tries to put together an estimation (let me know if you know one!).

The Chronicle, in a surprising streak of opinion articles, finds that Strunk and White’s claims are mostly baseless:

Simple experiments (which students could perform for themselves using downloaded classic texts from sources like show that Strunk and White preferred to base their grammar claims on intuition and prejudice rather than established literary usage.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice –

If academics take advice without questioning the evidence, I wonder what will save the general public :) . Good to see people at The Chronicle debunking BS; I have fallen prey of recommending Strunk and White myself… :(

Improving productivity with intended learning outcomes

September 22nd, 2008 by

"Well, it's round, apple-y and …"

It’s now September and with the turning of the leaves comes the start of another academic year. After more than 20 years of conditioning, I still see this as the true start of the new year so rather than wait until January, I tend to make my productivity resolutions now. But even if you prefer to wait until the snow flies, you’ll know that pausing to reflect on your past achievements and future goals is an important part of being productive.

I want to introduce the idea of intended learning outcomes (ILOs) as a template for planning your productivity. Planning is a key part of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system but it’s perhaps an overlooked one. I think part of this problem is that it can be difficult to coordinate plans over the various recommended time horizons: career, 5 years, this year, this week, etc. ILOs help overcome this obstacle by clearly defining what you hope to learn and over what period.